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Are Voters Fools?
Throughout the twentieth century there has been a large debate on the explicit knowledge of the voting public. As unfortunate as it may seem, the political scientists and theorists of our nation have not placed much belief in the knowledge of these people. The voters of America have been criticized in studies and defragmented in surveys as these political theorists try to answer the undaunting question, ?are voters fools?? The answer is not one single comprehensive study indeed. It is a complex quest to understand exactly what it is that makes the American public tick, or rather what does not. I believe that the people of our great nation are in fact smarter than our theorists would have us believe. Thus, my thesis is that voters are certainly not fools.
The 1990?s can most definitely be categorized as an era of change. As the new millennium approaches, the world is in a constant state of variation. In America, the people have become much more free spirited, more open to new things and certainly more politically incorrect. It seems that as the years progress people in the political arena are finding
it more acceptable to admit wrongdoing and act as they wish to, as opposed to doing everything on eggshells in hopes that the public will approve. It is not to say that politicians do not act in the needs of their constituents and voters at all. It just seems harder these days to pinpoint exactly who such people have become. As Niemi and Weisberg denote in one of their studies, ? It has long been recognized that a person?s vote does not depend solely on the candidates and issues of the current election.? There are many factors that determine exactly what it is that makes the public wish to vote in a given election for a candidate.
In the olden days, there was a fairly simple chart decreeing what exactly it was that made the voting population vote in the way that it did. The first of those was the issues of a race which have now become strikingly unimportant. The second and third labels on the chart are candidates and parties which seemed to be incredibly important. How times have changed. It takes a vast effort of telephone pleading and campaign begging just to get the voters to turn out. The problem with voting these days is that the American public is simply apathetic to the American political system. Robert Downs suggests that it is the systemic factors that are causing the voter turnout to be so low. The fact that the public must register to vote, then mobilize into a group as well as follow
all of the elections that seem to take place with much too great a frequency makes the turnout considerably decreased.
Theorists have been trying desperately for years to understand why the American people just are not voting the way they used to. The education rate has risen greatly and yet, the voting population has been less. What could possibly explain such phenomenon? The fact is that despite the rapid intellectual growth of our population, voter apathy has not changed. Politicians need to realize that until they make a concerted effort to reach the public and cater to its needs, they are not going to be any luckier in obtaining their needed results then they have been in the last few years.
Textera is one political scientist with some interesting ideas on why it is that the public does not turn out to vote. Some would say it is because they are fools and just do not have enough knowledge to understand the issues and pick a relevant candidate. I believe that Taxtera hits the nail on the head quite nicely as he composes his theory of voter turnout, and lack thereof. He accounts for thirty eight percent of the voter decline in the last decade or so in three factors. His social rootedness theory is that the younger voting population, as well as unmarried people and a more mobile citizenry are simply less likely to vote. He attributes the other sixty two percent of the decline to the public disconnecting itself from politics. He states that public identification has vastly declined, as
has campaign involvement, as well as efficacy, the feeling that people just feel less powerful in the political world.
Another possible stab as to the problem with the American voting population today is that they do not understand the issues and candidates placed in front of them. In the Nai and Anderson study of the twin peak region, they found that voters were able to pick their candidate from a list of others, but were not able to divulge a name if it was not handed to them. This particular survey, and many others like it were used to determine the fact that voters are in fact not fools, but more so people with a smaller understanding of exactly what was going on in a given political race. The problem with the survey was the survey itself. It is not to say that the people were stupid in any way or had no understanding of the race; it was more the fact that they did know what was going on, but were so far removed from the political spectrum that the plague of their disinterest in local political events kept them from staying atop the pool of political knowledge.
Powell is another political scientist with a theory on why there has been such a great voting decline in the last thirty years. He believes that cultural and environmental factors affect voter turnout more. He feels that increased institutional and legal barriers depress turnout. He also claims that systemic factors should be removed. Lane also states that
despite what most theorists claim, that voters are not ideologues, that they are in fact ideologues, with their own personal ideologies. However, Lane also felt that the more ideological an issue became, the less people knew. He was one of the survey analysts who felt that voters were not fools. They did in fact have somewhat of an understanding of issues and the candidates, but when it came to ideological issues such as abortion or gun control, the public was almost inept, thus finding that despite their own personal ideologies, they were not an ideological electorate.
As we reach the end of the twentieth century, we realize that the systemic voter turnout chart has vastly differed from that of the ?olden days?. In the 90?s, it is no longer party linkage that is important. It seems that rational issue voting has become a rather important factor. This of course also states that voters certainly cannot be fools if it is issues that have become so important. Parties used to be such a pivotal piece of the voting puzzle because it was so easy for a voter to ally themselves with a party so they would not have to research all of the issues for themselves. This is something that Down would call ?proximity voting?, thus voting closest to the candidate who seemed closest to the people on their voting issues. This has also made the case that retrospective voting has died down as well. Therefore citizens who used to vote on the basis of past party performance no longer act in this way.
Projection is another factor affecting how people vote. The people pick a candidate whom they like and then believe that this candidate is going to think the way that they do and therefore make the best representative for them. This of course will lead to persuasion, when the voter is then persuaded to change their view to that of the candidate. This new change from the voter choosing the party to the voter choosing an individual candidate is illustrating that voters are indeed capable of thinking on their own. Due to the fact that voters are increasingly turning to individual candidates to personify their views as opposed to picking one party and voting straight ticket, one would believe that voters are becoming more sophisticated. They no longer need the party to lead them and are making decisions on their own. The role of the party has thus been forever changed and modified.
The dawn of a new era is upon us and many things are going to be changing. I do believe that our political system will be one of them. It already has been. The fact that people no longer need a party to lead them into a political race says a great deal about our forever changing electorate body. It states that parties are sadly becoming insignificant. It used to be that there was a democratic party, and a republican party. You picked whichever one you felt suited you best and then stayed with it, unless briefly but bolding splitting your ticket in a given race. In today?s age of multiple parties, and independent candidates, it is much easier for
the people to find a candidate instead of a party to hold at the highest of standards. The party is soon to be obsolete. As Shulman and Pomper state, ? Evidence of the instability of partisanship led to the possibility that it was not totally long term but was affected by short term factors.? In this day and age there no longer seem to be long term factors. It seems that everyone today is living in the moment of today due to the lack of certainty in tomorrow.
To conclude, I do not believe that voters are fools. I think that there are many factors which affect the way in which they think and act. Voting today is not what it used to be to say the least. People no longer identify with one given party and many just do not care about the political system. The problem with our voting population is that we are completely apathetic to the political institution. Politics has become so far removed from everyday life and everyday people that we don?t know where to find the reality anymore. This is why people are not turning out at the voting booths in droves. They don?t believe what the politicians are trying to sell to them. What a sad state of affairs when we do not even trust the people who lead our country enough to lead themselves. Our country needs so desperately to find a way to integrate its people into its political system. For, as one states, ?Without voting, democracy would not exist.?
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